Roni Size / Reprazent - New Forms - Review
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critics' view

In 1997, the year Roni Size / Reprazent's New Forms was released, dance music was in the charts as much as the clubs. Crossover acts like The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and Leftfield took their cues from the rave scene, but were accessible enough for rock-oriented crowds and drive-time audiences. Drum & bass, however, was more mysterious. The likes of Origin Unknown's "Valley Of The Shadows" crept beyond the underground (I recall hearing it alongside tawdry indie demos and Britpop on BBC Radio 1's The Evening Session), but it was only in 1995, when the broadcaster launched a Friday night show, One In The Jungle, that the scene's music was exposed to those, like me, who were too young to be truly plugged into club culture. To a clueless ten-year-old, One In The Jungle sounded like an alien language transmitting to a clandestine following, who presumably understood what this wild, strange music was about.

New Forms seemed to mark a drastic change. It was heavily promoted, and won the 1997 Mercury Prize. Goldie's Timeless, released two years prior, achieved widespread acclaim, and LTJ Bukem's 1996 LP, Logical Progression, was also a hit. But neither broke through like New Forms did. "Share The Fall" was the first I'd heard of the Bristol drum & bass project, and it no doubt served as many listeners' gateway into the world of Reprazent, Roni Size, DJ Krust, DJ Die, Suv, Full Cycle Records, V Recordings and the wider world of drum & bass that lay beyond. With hindsight, it's easy to understand how devout junglists might've sneered at the record's all-conquering success and broad sound palette. But it remains a landmark of atmosphere, mood and ingenuity.

Tracks like "Brown Paper Bag" and "Heroes" had obvious appeal, with ear-catching jazzy keys and double bass licks—a prominent sound across the LP — but the stranger cuts were the ones that offered a window into a different musical paradigm. The sheer space on "New Forms," for instance, was a revelation. Bahamadia's dextrous pivot between cool and deadly MC flow and delicate soul singing felt suspended in thin air over a brittle break and ominous double bass lick. The icy, futuristic atmospherics of the track's first half contrasted sharply with the cosy familiarity of the sunkissed chords that came later.

Overall, though, it's a creepy album. "Mad Cat" opens with a chilling sample from the 1970 film Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls before the arrival of boom-bap drums and a devastating bassline. This moodiness, though, was offset with warmth and beauty. Onallee's "move on, move on / the mainstream" refrain during "Digital" shines through layers of alien texture. Of the LP's many standouts, "Matter Of Fact" leaps furthest from breakbeat conventions with dazzling drum acrobatics, which vaults around globules of bass and hi-tech synth abstraction. "Watching Windows" has a low-slung funk groove to die for. And "Destination" ends the LP on a breezy note, thanks to a stunning sample of Everything But The Girl's "Each & Every One."

New Forms is a masterpiece with a beautiful problem — when you strike upon something so vital, what the hell do you do afterwards? A two-disc edition, released in the same year, included several B-side tracks. But Roni Size / Reprazent's next album, 2000's In The Mode, and a solo outing from Size, Touching Down, courted a less subtle jump-up style. It was a general trend in drum & bass seen in artists like Dillinja, whose deft mid-'90s material gave way to brutish basslines and streamlined beats at the turn of the millennium. Then came 2008's New Forms 2, an ill-advised attempt to rehash the original with, as Size put it at the time, "a new coat of armour."

The past 20 years hasn't dimmed the brilliance of the original LP.

Oli Warwick
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